RAAM veteran Chris Hopkinson has worked hard on his time trialing too, and indications are he's the fastest he's ever been. Though he's the odds-on favorite, any number of unforeseen events could derail his chances just as they did in 2009, which caused him to drop out of the race in Colorado.
There are even more questions about the women's race. Last year's winner, Maria Parker, will not be competing this year. This leaves the race wide open in the six-woman field. RAAM veterans like American Jacquie Schlitter and Canada's Joan Deichtman can't expect any favors from British newcomer Shusanah Pillinger, who's become an accomplished ultra-distance triathlete and cyclist in a short time. It'll be intriguing to see how it all unfolds.
There's always a lot of action in the different team competitions, but one 4-man relay squad stands out in front of all the others this year. Team Legends of the Road features Motocross legend Micky Dymond, BMX and X Games champion Dave Mirra, Supermoto champion and mountain bike racer Ben Bostrom, and Captain America himself David Zabriskie.
The last time a pro tour cyclist competed in RAAM was 2006. Jacques Boyer won the "Solo Enduro" category, which requires competitors to stop for a minimum of 40 hours for rest. Before that, Boyer won the 1985 edition of the race. It'll be interesting to see what sort of effort Zabriskie and his all-star compatriots can mount.
The course record in the 4-man category was set in 2004, completing 2,959 miles in 5 days, 8 hours and 17 minutes with an average speed of 23.06 mph. This year's course is 3,020 miles, so it's possible they could break the record for average speed. It's less likely that they'll break the overall finishing time record. They'll have their work cut out for them if they want to make a clean sweep of it.
Watching the Action
Once competitors summit Palomar Mountain and ride out into the brutal deserts of California and Arizona, it'll be difficult to see the cyclists in action unless you happen to live near the route.
Technology is making RAAM a more spectator-friendly sport. Real-time GPS tracking will be available on RAAM's official live-broadcast website, www.ridefarther.com.
For Strava addicts, solo competitor Bob McEnaney has partnered with Lancet Data Sciences to live stream his data throughout the race. Lancet's website currently hosts a slick display that lets you compare rider performances throughout RAAM's history.
If you're interested in more race-week coverage, be sure to catch longtime RAAM commentator George Thomas's interviews with competitors on OverTheTop Radio and John Foote's reporting on UltraRaceNews.com. They're to ultra cycling what Phil Liggett and John Wilcockson are to the Tour de France.
The last few years at RAAM have been historic. From the level of competition and its popularity to the way it is reaching new audiences, RAAM is breaking new ground. What started as an event broadcast across the country on ABC's "Wide World of Sports" is finding its way back into mainstream consciousness. It's evolved from an "extreme stunt" to a seriously contested, exciting race. As great as the last five years have been, this could be the best one yet. Don't miss the chance to see the action as it unfolds.
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